COVID has rocked the ground from under us and we’re navigating new terrain. When our landscape shifts daily, lessons learned from a life of extreme adventure can help. 

6 lessons learned from a life of extreme adventure

From ever-shifting glaciers to dense jungle and remote deserts, the world’s landscapes have always been in flux. But COVID has rocked the ground in ways we weren’t prepared for. Everything is changing and we’re navigating new terrain. So when the landscape of our lives is shifting so dramatically and we’re unsure what tomorrow will bring, how do we successfully manage this change and uncertainty? Some hard-earned lessons learned from my life of extreme adventure might help.

“When the landscape of your life is shifting dramatically, uncertainty is the only certainty. But with change there’s opportunity – it’s up to you to grasp it.”

Accept whatever emotions arise

When you’re in an unexpected situation, simply taking stock of what’s happening and how you’re feeling is a great starting point. With COVID most of us are on an emotional rollercoaster, experiencing huge feelings like anxiety, anger, frustration, and grief. Whatever you’re feeling in the face of the unknown, it’s important to give yourself the space to process it properly. And stock up on self-compassion – because however you’re feeling is natural in an uncertain world.

Maintain a clear vision and adapt the route 

We’re all having to recalibrate in the face of Coronavirus. Life as we know it has changed. But that doesn’t mean we can’t stay focused on our goals. I was challenged by unforeseen circumstances ­striving to reach the summit of the world’s highest volcano, Ojos del Salado in the South American Andes. It was the last big hurdle to achieving a long-held goal.

It all happened on our final summit push. I was separated from my local guide just after leaving high camp at midnight. Thinking he may have moved ahead of me in the pitch black of night, I kept climbing, only to realise once the sun rose that I’d deviated from the trail. I was lost and alone, suffering self-doubt and fearing death from sheer exhaustion, and I knew I was out of reach of helicopter rescue. I had to adapt quickly and chart a new route to the summit or else turn back, giving up on my dream of becoming the youngest person to climb the Seven Summits and Seven Volcanic Summits (by this point a decade long quest). It turned out to be a longer, more precarious route to the top, but by reminding myself of my ultimate goal every strenuous step of the way, I eventually made it. My guide was there to greet me at the bottom. In our personal and professional lives we’re all having to be patient, resilient and flexible, calling on our deepest resources to adjust to our new normal. We must all map a new way forward. Adaptability is now a critical skill – more on that in a later blog post. 

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Focus on what you can control

Whether you’re facing an objective hazard like an avalanche, the thin air of high-altitude or a highly contagious virus particle, it helps to understand your role in the situation and focus on what you can control. You can do small things to make the process of change and change management as well as the experience of uncertainty easier ­­– things to support yourself and others, like washing hands, wearing a mask and maintaining a social distance. In the case of extreme adventure, meticulous planning and preparation, general fitness and destination research are key. Accept that you may not have control over COVID, but you can control your preparation and approach. This reduces the feeling of helplessness and gives you purpose.

Where there is uncertainty there is opportunity

It might be tough, but it’s important to know that if you change the way you look at it, uncertainty can become an opportunity to learn and grow rather than a threat. (You can read about reframing in this post on resilience). Change is here, and we’re at a crossroads. One way is fear and anxiety, the other is opportunity. Business owners are reshaping their companies’ futures, staff are focusing on creating healthy work/life balance, all our priorities are shifting towards more sustainable ways to work and live. If we embrace the unexpected creatively by connecting the dots, we can innovate – and emerge stronger. As a change management speaker I know the value of approaching change with innovation and optimism.

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Map a new way forward when walking on thin ice

There are still so many unknowns with COVID. This creates a deep sense of uncertainty that makes us feel untethered and exposed (just like being perched on a ledge on a perilous rock face). ­Nothing could have prepared us for the situation we find ourselves in, but having been confronted by my own mortality, tackling some of the harshest environments on the planet and battling insurmountable odds, I’ve learned that when change and uncertainty abounds, you can’t control it – uncertainty is the only certainty – but you can control how you take the next step.

Stay connected

Despite physical distancing, it’s never been more important to stay connected. COVID is a global challenge, and we’re collectively striving toward a common goal. Communication and collaboration with our support team helps relieve the emotional burden and makes us feel more equipped and secure. On that final summit push to the top of the highest volcano on Earth, I contacted my dad by satellite phone. A world away, he was able to give me the confidence to keep going, texting me route details he’d pulled from satellite imagery along with weather forecasts. Having the courage to reach out for a hand when you need it is possibly the most important lesson I’ve learnt. Look for others who can fill your knowledge gap and whose insights open your mind to new possibilities.

We’re all learning to manage in turbulent times. If you’re keen to find out how I can help motivate and inspire you and your people with lessons learned from real-life experiences of successfully managing change and uncertainty, building resilience, persevering through adversity, and strengthening mindset I’ve got lots to share. Stay tuned!

“When change and uncertainty abounds, you can’t control it – but you can control how you take the next step.”

ABOUT DANIEL

Daniel Bull is a sought-after keynote speaker on change management and 3 x world record-breaking extreme adventurer who inspires audiences with his honesty and passion on topics of motivation, goal setting, teamwork, overcoming fear and adversity, and more. Find out more at www.unstoppabull.com.

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